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Personal/Theological Notebook: Dinner with Markus; The Good Life and Em's Painting; Michaelmas

Before I forget and break tradition:

MICHAELMAS!

Giulio Romano; Roman, 1499 - 1546; Saint Michael, c. 1530;
pen and brown ink, National Gallery of Art

Celebrating Michaelmas (well, among other things) got an early start last night with a feast over at fellow-Michael Mike Harris' place, where he and Donna were hosting our guest of honour Markus Wriedt for the evening. I was there as well, as were the Lloyds. Markus is doing his dual-placement thing right now, being a professor both here and in Frankfurt. As he is one of Germany's most famed food critics as well as a professor of Reformation history and theology, he is much sought-after for his cooking services here as well. We opened last night with a very full German white wine, so much so that I almost felt compelled to chew it, and a few bottles of this as well as seafood appetizers (shrimp and octopus, with various sauces) kept the adults content while the kids ate and then were gotten ready for bed.

Markus prepared a meal of stuffed peppers (green, gold, orange, and red, for our preferences), stuffed with minced beef and pork in about a 2/3 to 1/3 ratio, and then this was served with simple white rice, very moist, with a light glaze of a tomato sauce of fresh tomatoes from the Harris' garden. A series of red wines were served with this and the conversation was much quieter now that the children were asleep. Lots of talk about Markus and his family, and his recovery from his illness. This led in turn to the novels he was reading while recovering, having been forbidden from real historical work/reading. He nevertheless gravitated toward work with real spiritual roots, things that might have a shot at making the shelf of "The 100 Greatest Works of Literature" that he keeps in comparison to a bookseller friend of his back home, where each substitution on either's shelf become an occasion for hours of talk. He is a huge enthusiast of Nabokov, and he urged us to read Pnin and Lolita, in that order, and this led us to talk about the Russian soul, the 20th century, and the writer in exile, whether Nabokov or Solzhenitsyn. He then began to speak of another book I've not read, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I'd heard of from varia109. The redemption images in this, and what sounded to me like their difficulty as well as their glory, made me think of Shusaku Endo's Silence, which Markus, in turn, had never heard of, and so I shared some experience of reading that, and my decision not to read it with my high school seniors as too much spiritually for them to be ready to absorb.

There was much talk also about the good life, about travel and family around the table. Markus told a story of an old blues artist he'd been acquainted with in his younger days, a German who went abroad and who saw much of life from the streets or the gutter in a hard run of years. Markus had taken his wife and then-13 year-old son to see a performance when the musician had returned to Germany after a great while, and they renewed their acquaintance after the show and made a real friendship out of it. This musician was "taken in" to the family table and became deeply moved at the way Markus' son, a great lover of music who had been deaf when very young and is now a musician himself, sat leaning against him in a posture of utter familiarity and comfort, even of intimacy. Like family. And the musician exclaimed how he had been looking for that kind of feeling for years, around the world, because Germany had very much lost that, somehow, in their own culture. Markus spoke of really finding that when staying with a family in Naples, but that this was part of what made their Christian home now very distinctive in very secular Germany.

This brought to mind a painting I had just that morning discovered friede had done, in her style of taking photographs and digitally painting over them, breaking them down into more elemental forms and colours. She had commented in a journal entry of mine back in middle June, where I had noted that I had updated a November 2006 entry with a few photographs that Andrei had just sent me, how much she loved the form or spontaneity of the photo, although acknowledging that it really wasn't a great photo in itself. Her painting, of me holding Renée while I was eating and talking at a gathering at the Lloyds, really does pull out the essence of the moment much more strongly. So that came to my mind and I shared that with the group at dinner, as an example of just that kind of image or reality that Markus was talking about. (Along with the painting, you can see the original shot here, if you're so inclined.)

As dinner finished up and the conversation continued, I became the object of occasional amusement. I hadn't slept much the night before, had been on the run all day and hadn't eaten until dinner, and then, combining much wine on an empty stomach and my medication, I began to nod at the table. When I was talking, it was easy to resist any weariness, but sitting still, well-fed, listening and just breathing too shallowly, I began to do the in-and-out fade that's so embarrassing whenever you do it in some public function. As is usual with everyone, my attempts to disguise this so as not to appear rude failed utterly and everyone just began to laugh at me. Markus keeps earlier hours, though, so we called it a night before too much time had passed, and I was soon home where I could collapse at my leisure. I totally failed to wander over to the commons by the Union, where the Studio 013 Refugees were doing their all-night 12-hour improv comedy run and where Julie said she'd be, and so I'll have to do some Michaelmas begging for forgiveness.


This angel is a true guardian
Saturday, September 29, 2007
By MICHAEL MILLER
of the Peoria Journal Star

Detective Todd Green knows St. Michael.

The Peoria police officer and member of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church keeps a medallion of the saint, given to him by his wife, in his wallet.

Michael the Archangel, whose feast is today, is patron saint to police officers and paratroopers, security guards and soldiers.

On Tuesday, the children of St. Thomas Grade School acknowledged this tradition by honoring and praying for Green and other members of the Peoria and Peoria Heights police departments.

"Grant them courage when they are afraid, wisdom when they must make quick decisions, strength when they are weary and compassion in all their work," the students prayed. "When duty becomes dangerous, walk closely by their side and protect them."

Sept. 29 has been the feast day of St. Michael in Roman Catholic tradition since the sixth century, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. From at least the Middle Ages to the 18th century, it was a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

But archangels have taken it on the heavenly chin with human saints when it comes to popular acknowledgment of their feast days.

"Most of the saints' feast days, if you bracket St. Patrick, have simply not captured the imagination of most people today except when the saint's feast day is somehow connected to some form of ethnic pride," said Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at Notre Dame University.

But today's feast in Catholic and Anglican traditions is of venerated beings who have little or no ethnic ties, or even physical bodies: the archangels Michael and Gabriel as well as Raphael and Uriel.

Michaelmas, pronounced "mickel-moss," has gone from being a marker in the year in places like Britain, where it was a day on which quarterly rents and accounts were to be paid, to being virtually unknown and unacknowledged in many Christian circles.

Michael and Gabriel are the only two angels mentioned by name in commonly accepted Scripture. Catholicism adds the archangel Raphael, who is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, part of the Catholic canon, while Anglicanism also acknowledges Uriel, who appears in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Orthodox Christianity adds three other angels culled from tradition.

A final archangel mentioned by name in ancient Jewish literature was Lucifer, who in Christian tradition is more commonly known as Satan.

The unfallen archangels are considered to be saints because they are known to be in the presence of God, putting them on the same level with those humans who have died and been canonized. While the human saints are held up as examples to be emulated by the faithful, angelic saints are on a different level.

"In some ways it's different, but in some ways it's exactly the same thing," said the Rev. Stanley Deptula, director of worship for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. "A saint in the most generic sense is a resident of heaven. The good angels behold the face of God. All the saints become icons of the face of God. All the saints show us God. Human persons who, in their earthly life exhibit holiness lead us to God. In the same way, the angels, archangels, as we hear about their adventures in sacred Scripture, can also lead us to God. They show us how much God loves us, which is what any saint strives to do."

Gabriel and Raphael used to have their own feast days, but those were moved to the same day as Michael's in 1970. As archangels, they are considered to be chief among God's messengers and servants.

Michael is understood to be the protector of God's people and the leader of angelic armies, a reputation coming from Daniel 12:1, Jude 1:9 and Revelation 12:7. The portrait of an aggressive angel, though, is not the common one.

"Part of the problem is if you say to most people 'angel,' immediately they're going to have pictures in the head which are largely derived from Christian art, and Christian art depicting angels is not something that is going to grab the imagination," Notre Dame's Cunningham said. "(It's) kind of an androgynous-looking figure with wings on its back. Catholic tradition teaches us that angels are spirits, they don't have wings, but somehow Christian tradition had to get across the idea that they were messengers, so they gave them wings. Some of them had this militance about them and that shows up in literature. They are sometimes shown with swords."

The Rev. John Spencer, vicar of St. Francis Church, an Episcopal congregation in Dunlap, said Michaelmas is "a day where we thank God for the ministry of angels," something that's not done often these days.

"When I was growing up, there was much more teaching about angels and the role of angels," Spencer said.

The Bible makes "countless references to them," he said.

"If you read Isaiah and Ezekiel, they're as much a major player in the salvation history as humans in one sense," Spencer said.

Recognition of Michael's role as related in the Bible goes against cultural currents, Spencer said.

"I often speak of Michael as that great protector, especially in the mass media, the Hollywood era we live in, where the devil is seen as this bogeyman who might possess us, but Michael reminds us that through Michael, God has conquered the devil," the priest said.

"Faithful Christians have no reason to fear the devil. His reign has been put in check by Michael and the reign of Christ. It can be a great solace to remember we have a powerful intercessor in St. Michael the Archangel."
Tags: art, books, christianity, cultural, europe, family, food, friends-marquette era, marquette, michaelmas, personal, teachers, theological notebook, wine
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